Pope Francis in Armenia


The centre of Yerevan (Armenia’s capital city) has never been so quiet. Streets are closed off around the temporary stage on the south side of Republic Square, where Pope Francis will this afternoon address dignitaries and whoever can find standing room within earshot of the loudspeakers.


Armenia was the first country in the world to become officially Christian, beating the Roman Empire by 79 years.  As in Russia, religion has become an important signifier of nationality, and virtually every Armenian is a follower of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

The Armenian Church belongs to the Eastern Orthodox tradition, which diverged from Roman Catholicism after the Great Schism of 1054 – the eleventh century equivalent of Brexit.  So a visit by the Pope is a big deal.  It represents a handshake between two branches of the Christian faith – a demonstration of unity of purpose in a fragmented world.

But more than that, in April Pope Francis described the killing of over a million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as ‘genocide’, for which he was reprimanded by the Turkish Government which immediately recalled its envoy to the Vatican.  His first act on landing in Yerevan yesterday was to visit the Genocide Memorial.

Armenia wants international recognition of its proud history, its victimhood and its legitimacy as a nation.  Armenia also wants acceptance of the claims of the Armenian enclave Ngorno Karabakh to independence from Azerbaijan.  Frankly, Armenians cannot understand how anyone could disagree with this interpretation of history and international law.

It is easy to understand why Armenians attach such importance to this visit by someone of Pope Francis’s political and moral standing, and his implicit endorsement of their world view.

Two Statues


Yesterday two statues were unveiled in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. I saw one about to be erected as I walked to a meeting. When I came out of the meeting it was in place but shrouded, with workmen putting the finishing touches to its installation:

YerevanStatue_3  YerevanStatue_1

The subject is Garegin Nzhdeh, born Garegin Ter-Harutyunyan, an Armenian national hero, soldier and statesman who took on the Ottoman and Russian Empires and the Soviet Union during his 69-year life (1886-1955). The photo below (which I borrowed from that admirable fount of knowledge Wikipedia) shows him as a proud, armed and decorated warrior.


But there were two unveilings yesterday.  The other was a seated statue of Marshal Hamazasp Babajanian, an acclaimed tank commander for the Soviet Union in the Second World War.  It has been criticised on aesthetic grounds.  Judge for yourself:


When I first posted on this topic I mistakenly reported that the second statue depicted Anastas Mikoyan, known in Armenia as ‘the executioner’.  A proposal to erect a statue of Mikoyan provoked such negative public reaction that it did not go forward.  My original text is reproduced below in italics.


The other was a statue of Anastas Mikoyan. He was Armenia’s highest profile Soviet politician, serving under Lenin and all subsequent leaders up to and including Brezhnev. He was instrumental in carrying out Stalin’s bloody orders in his homeland, earning him the nickname ‘the executioner’.

Predictably, many people have been surprised to see Mikoyan honoured with a statue, albeit in a less central location than Garegin Nzhdeh’s. The most plausible explanation that I am aware of is that it is a sop to Russia, on whose good will Armenia depends, neatly balancing the honour given to a nationalist who tried to liberate at least a part of Armenia from Soviet rule.

Armenia is a small, poor, landlocked nation with two hostile neighbours: Turkey and Azerbaijan (with whom shots are being exchanged on the border as I write). Armenia cannot afford to anger its one powerful friend.

As a postscript, Anastas Mikoyan had a famous brother Artem, an aircraft designer. The ‘Mi’ in Mikoyan combines with the ‘G’ in the name of Artem’s partner Mikhail Gurevich to make the famous acronym ‘MiG’.

Smile !


For years I was reluctant to smile in a full-scale, open mouthed, toothy sort of way. Now I do it all the time – so much so that people are reluctant to sit next to me on buses.

Why? Last year I had some dental work done, of a frankly cosmetic nature.  The pictures below show what can be done by an expert over a dozen-or-so sessions.  I haven’t labelled them ‘Before’ and ‘After’ but I think you can work it out.  I’m amazed at how bad my teeth got before I succumbed to pressure to do something about them.  I’m equally amazed at the extent of the transformation.



You will want to know the name of the miracle-worker, and if your teeth are half-as bad as mine were you’ll want to know his address too. He is Dr Vatche Kishmishian, Oral and Dental Surgeon at the Avanta Dental Clinic at 5 Zakyan Street, Yerevan, Armenia.  The ’phone number is +374 10 521195.

What Vatche did in my mouth cost about US$2,000. If you live in Australia or the USA it could be worth an airfare and a month’s rent for a Yerevan apartment to let him work his magic on you too.